The "Good Person" Delusion

I wouldn't describe myself as a "good person". I've broken rules. I've broken laws. I've broken hearts. I've broken promises. I've wanted to break bones.

The "Good Person" Delusion
If you think you're a good person, you're probably not.

These Are My Confessions

I wouldn't describe myself as a "good person".

I've broken rules. I've broken laws. I've broken hearts. I've broken promises. I've wanted to break bones. I've lied. I've cheated. I've stolen. I've manipulated. I've misled. I've mistreated. I've taken advantage of those who were more vulnerable than me. I've thrown stones from a glass house. I've denied the humanity of others, called them outside of their names, and wished ill upon them. On more than one occasion someone has said to me "I couldn't picture you mad", and it blows my mind because on more than one occasion, I've been so mad that I've scared myself. These days I spend more time studying peace than I do studying war but I know violence very well. I've enjoyed violence and in some ways, I still do. I sometimes play violent video games, listen to violent music, watch violent sports, and consume other violent forms of entertainment because there's a part of me that finds violence exciting. I've never been one to be quick to physically accost someone else but I've definitely bullied people mentally and emotionally. I've spoken before about how it sometimes triggers me when people call me "kind" nowadays because I remember just how unkind I've been in the past.

I'm still haunted by a choice I made in my youth, a choice to manipulate and hurt someone who didn't deserve it. It was the summer before ninth grade. Although I hadn't started high school yet, at the summer camp I was attending, I was already considered a 'junior,' as it was my third year out of four in the camp's program. The camp's attendees ranged in age from 11 to 14, with 11-year-olds being 'freshmen' and 14-year-olds being 'seniors.' It was a tradition for the upperclassmen to tease the freshmen who had just entered the program. During an activity that brought together kids from each level, my boys thought it would be funny to dare me to ask this quiet, awkward, isolated, innocent little freshman girl to be my girlfriend. Wanting to impress my friends, I accepted the dare, approached the innocent girl, and jokingly begged her to be my girlfriend. She blushed and tried to hide her emotions in the way that young girls often do but couldn't stop smiling. Being flustered and likely embarrassed at being put on the spot, she never gave me a solid 'yes' so, part of me felt she understood that I wasn't being serious about my offer.

Me and my boys laughed it off and went on with our day. Lunch came around and we sat at our usual table, shooting the shit. Suddenly, one of my friends nudged me and teasingly said, 'Here comes your girlfriend'. I looked up to see the awkward, sweet, innocent little girl I'd asked to be my girlfriend earlier approaching us, grinning wide with her hands clutching her food tray. As soon as she sat down beside me, I told her, "You can't sit here, I was just playing about you being my girlfriend", as my friends laughed in the background. Her smile quickly turned into a scowl and tears welled up in her eyes as she stood up and walked to an empty table to eat lunch by herself, though, as far as I could tell she didn't eat at all. And though I played it off at the time for the sake of being cool, I felt like an asshole for what I'd done. I still feel like an asshole. I never got the opportunity to apologize to her and I'd like to because I know first-hand how experiences from childhood can have a lasting impact on how we develop as adults.

Knowing all the harmful ideas and behaviors that have existed in me and that still exist in me, I can't, in good faith, call myself a "good person". That being said, I also can't call myself a "bad person" because I've worked relentlessly to heal many of the wounds that made it so easy for me to hurt others in the past. I've worked relentlessly to stop projecting my pain onto others. I have always had a kind & open heart, even if I often betrayed it by lacking the courage or the capacity to express it. So, even though I'm well aware of how capable I am of "bad", I don't consider myself a "bad person" either. I think that referring to ourselves and others as "good" and "bad" diminishes the very nuance that makes us human and though categorizing people as "good" and "bad" is convenient and feels safe to the ego, it is counterproductive to understanding ourselves and the world around us fully.

Practice What You Preach

"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

One night when I was 9 or 10, I was out with my mom's then boyfriend who worked as a funeral attendant. It was after hours but he needed to stop by the funeral home before going back to my mom's house. When we got to the funeral home, I decided to get out the car and go inside with him because I was curious and wanted to know what a funeral home looked like behind the scenes. When he opened the door to the back rooms of the funeral home, I saw something that shocked me to my core. There was a poker table in the middle of the room and sitting closest to me with his back turned was the funeral home director and sitting across from him, cards in one hand, a beer in the other, and talking pure cash shit to his opponent in front of him was this well known preacher from a church that my church often visited during revival season. Now, this might not seem like cause for shock to you but you have understand, where I'm from and how I was raised, preachers were viewed as the most holy, well-behaved, exemplary examples of a human being that existed. They were put on pedestals, which they very much enjoyed being on, and looked down on all the sinners of the world who drank, and gambled, and cursed, and did anything other than what they claimed the bible says one should do. I was raised in the church— going to church was not optional for the first 18 years of my life, so seeing a pastor whom I'd seen in the pulpit, many times before, doing the exact things that he'd preached that others should not do really shocked the shit out of little me. I couldn't believe my eyes and couldn't wait to get home to tell my mother what I'd seen! Surprisingly to me, when she heard my scandalous news about all the sin I saw this preacher indulging in, she just laughed and said "I'm sure he does more than that!"

That was the first time I remember it being made apparently clear to me that people are hypocrites. That people can tell you to do one thing and then do the complete opposite themselves. And the fact that my mom laughed when I told her what I saw, showed that this is something adults are well aware of and, for the most part, have accepted about others. Which is why it's so interesting that we can't seem to accept it about ourselves. I remember how my mom would fuss at me for spilling a drink on the carpet but when she did the same, she didn't outwardly persecute herself the same way she did me. This was one of many ways that she'd been a hypocrite but had I called my mother or that preacher "hypocrites" back then, I probably would have gotten smacked. Even now, I've noticed in my interactions with others that 'hypocrite' is one the things that people universally hate being called. I feel this is because it is much easier for us to look out into the world and identify "bad" or "evil" behaviors in others but it is exceedingly difficult to do the same for ourselves— especially if we've reduced our self-perception to being "good". Being attached to the idea that we are "good" makes it impossible to confront and heal the "bad" things within ourselves that lead us to behave in harmful & hypocritical ways.

Ram Dass, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Alan Watts, Jiddu Krishnamurti, & Osho are all people who I consider to be spiritual teachers. Not that I am the authority in determining such things but each of these men seem enlightened to me. Each of these men seem holy to me. Each of these men have a very convincing and convicting relationship with the Divine and the words of each of these men have touched me deeply & brought me closer to my own divinity. But each of these men have also done things that you'd likely attribute to a "bad person".

Ram Dass was very open about his sexual escapades, with both men and women, and how'd he often feel the urge to take advantage of his position as a spiritual teacher to seduce some of his followers. He also allegedly had a long lost son with whom he didn't meet until he was of old age, so, took no part in caring for.

Ram Dass, shortly after his transformation from Richard Alpert, the Harvard Psychologist, to Ram Dass, the spiritual teacher.

Nisargadatta was a chronic beedi (cigarette) smoker who died of throat cancer. He was also allegedly notorious for being mean and rude to his visitors, whom often travelled thousands of miles to hear him speak, by yelling at them and kicking them out of his house.

Nisargadatta Maharaj, considered by many to be a saint, and the person who has single handedly had the biggest impact of my spiritual development via his book on non-duality entitled "I Am That", smoking a beedi.

Alan Watts was allegedly an alcoholic and maybe a bit of a playboy, who had seven kids between three wives, and whom is believed to have spent the twilight of his life in a deep depression leading him to drink himself to death.

Alan Watts - in my opinion, one of the most important philosophers of our time.

Jiddi Krishnamurti allegedly engaged in a decades long love affair with the wife of his friend and business partner.

Jiddu Krishamurti is such a brilliant thinker. He's one of the first people who really made me deeply inquire within myself about why I am the way I am.

And Osho was just a fucking mess all-around, lol. He situated himself as the head of what I think is fairly described as a cult, whom as a unit, allegedly committed multiple felonies including drug possession/trafficking, bioterrorism, arson, & attempted murder. He regularly slept with his devotees and also had quite the appetite for luxury as he loved Rolls Royces, jewelry, and other expensive items. There's no doubt that Osho often let the ego get the best of him but he is also one of the most brilliant thinkers I've ever read. He also possesses a wisdom & a clarity that could not have come from anywhere but through direct contact with the Divine.

Osho getting into one of his, checks notes, 93 Rolls Royces. Though, his affinity for material things didn't seem to diminish his spiritual wisdom at all.

Supporters of these men would likely refer to them as "good people" while critics of these men would likely refer to them as "bad people". So who is right? Both and neither. I have a deep reverence for each of these men because they've all taught me many things that have assisted me on my journey towards liberation. But the most impactful thing they've all taught me is that you don't have to be perfect to be Divine. Each of these men were pretty honest about the "bad" qualities they had and each of these men worked tirelessly to try and help those who came to them for assistance. And this was extremely helpful for me to see because what often prevented me from seeing myself in a positive enough light to help others was feeling like I wasn't a good enough person to be giving advice. But these men showed me that you don't have to be without flaws in order to help a multitude of people. And that not being able to free yourself from your own prison does not necessarily mean you don't have the capacity to help free others from theirs.

The Good, The Bad, And the Ugly

What does Martin Luther King Jr. and Albert Einstein have in common? They both are held in high regard in the public eye for being champions in their respective fields. They both made substantial contributions to society that have almost certainly made the world a better place than it could have been without them. They both would likely be considered "good people" by the average person. And they both absolutely could not be faithful to their wives. At least MLK Jr. tried to hide it. His alleged infidelity was revealed by the FBI wiretapping his hotel room and overhearing him speak on the phone to several of his mistresses. My boy Einstein, on the other hand, was not only flagrant about his infidelity, he also apparently gave his first wife, Mileva, a list of rules she would have to follow if he were to stay married to her, one of which being, "You are neither to expect intimacy nor to reproach me in any way'', that being because he was saving all his intimacy for his women on the side whom he actually liked, lol.

Einstein's alleged rules for his wife.

I think the general consensus among reasonable people is that Barack Obama was a "good" president but I personally don't think a "good" president exists because in order to do your job as a president, you will have to make decisions that will negatively effect the lives of millions of people who've done nothing to deserve it. I feel similarly towards billionaires as I don't believe it's possible to accumulate that much wealth without extensively exploiting people who have less than you. Not only that, hoarding that much wealth is not something a "good" person would do, yet presidents and billionaires are both often touted as thought leaders, role models, and pinnacles of success that others should aspire to be like.

If you were to ask Donald Trump if he were a good person, I am 100% sure he would say 'yes' and then, unsolicited, he would go on to tell you all the reasons why he's a good person. I'm sure Hitler thought he was a good person. I'm sure most of the members of the Ku Klux Klan thought they were good people doing good things. I've watched Youtube videos of murderers and the like all saying that they think they are good people who just did a bad thing. I could go on, and on, but my point is, thinking you're a good person really means nothing. Thinking you're a good person will not prevent you from harming others. And if you feel compelled to identify & defend yourself as a "good person" it's likely because there's something in you that doesn't feel "good" that you're insecure about. In my experience, the first step to actually being good is acknowledging and admitting that you are not all good because without awareness and acceptance of the ways that we are bad, we are doomed to project our bad onto others unconsciously.

How I feel about myself is that I'm not a good person, or a bad person — I am a human and what makes me human is that I have the capacity for both good and bad. I feel like referring to yourself or someone else as "good" or "bad" is lazy thinking and that if you reduce the experience of being human to binary terms, you will have missed the whole point. If we were to meant to always be angels, we'd live in Heaven, not earth. If we were meant to always be devils, we'd live in Hell, not earth. We live on earth to experience duality — that is, to know things through their opposites. And though I, like you probably, would like it if the world were full of good people, with good ideas, doing good things all the time, that's just not reality. Through accepting that the bad in me, and the bad in the world, exist by design and not by error, has allowed me to find peace in who I am completely and to not be so affected by the "evil" in the world.

Loving ourselves is not just loving the good parts of ourselves but also the bad and the ugly parts of ourselves. To love something is not necessarily to like it or to condone it but to accept it and to appreciate it. To love something is to find value in it, even if the value is teaching you what you don't want to be. So, to love ourselves is to find value in both the good and bad aspects of ourselves because we would not be who we are without either. If you spend enough time with any human who is being authentic, they will disappoint eventually. If you live authentically, you will disappoint yourself and others eventually. And that's okay. Because being a "good" human is not never doing anything wrong or falling short of your potential — being a "good" human is knowing yourself completely and using that knowledge to do your best to contribute to the lives of others in a positive way.

Growth Challenge

Objective: This week's challenge is designed to help you recognize and understand the less celebrated parts of your personality—the aspects you might secretly love, even if they aren't typically deemed "good." By acknowledging and exploring these traits, you can achieve a more balanced self-awareness and perhaps even find ways to channel these energies more constructively.

We all have traits or habits that we’re not supposed to be proud of. Maybe it's the thrill of doing something forbidden, or perhaps a part of us that we feel enhances our identity in ways society may not fully approve. This week, your challenge is to explore these "shadow" aspects of yourself. If you feel called to, journal about your reflections, but it can be enough to just spend some time this week contemplating the ways it feels "good" to be "bad".

Here are some questions for inspiration:

What are some things that you probably shouldn't be proud of yet you are?

Are you a master manipulator?

Do you excel at tempting other people's people?

Do you wear salacious clothes because you like the attention?

Do you like to steal unique silverware from restaurants?

Are you good hiding income from the government?

Are you skilled at roasting people?

Is it really cheating if you don't get caught?

Further Study

A couple years ago, I shared moral dilemmas on my instagram stories and polled my audience about what they would do in particular situations with the sole purpose of highlighting that morality is not black and white and that to fully know ourselves is to accept that to be a human being is to exist in the gray.

One of the moral dilemmas I shared back then is the classic "Trolley Problem" where you are to imagine that a trolley is headed towards five people tied up on the tracks. You are standing next to a lever that can divert the trolley onto a different track, where only one person is tied up. The dilemma is whether to pull the lever, causing the trolley to switch tracks and kill one person, but save five others; or do nothing and allow the trolley to kill the five people.

Someone on the internet built the classic trolley problem as well as other iterations into an interactive website where you can make your own choices around a given situation and compare your answers to what others have chosen.

If you'd like to play and get to know your own personal morals better, the link to the site is below:

What's Going On With Me? + Fun Facts About Me

I finally bought a new bike! And have spent this past week going out for rides as much as possible. I used to love riding my bike as a kid but stopped once I got to high school since it was no longer considered "cool" at that age and didn't ride a bike again for over 20 years until I took a trip to Tulum last year and had to use a bike as a primary form of transportation. This trip reinvigorated the joy I felt as a kid from riding my bike and encouraged me to buy a bike and start riding regularly again once I got back home.

My new steed! I'm open to name suggestions. Feel free to drop me yours in the comments 🙏🏾

I had to sell my last bike before I left DC because I didn't have room to bring it with me when I moved and have been waiting for the weather to improve enough before I bought another one and that time has finally arrived. It has been so much fun to get out and ride again, especially since Pittsburgh is a very bike friendly place. There are miles of trails downtown that make for a very scenic trek around the city. Riding my bike is one of the ways I connect with my inner child as an adult and if you enjoyed riding your bike as a kid, I implore you to consider picking that hobby back up as an adult because you will probably still love it.

Speaking of hobbies, for the fun fact about me this week, here are the some other hobbies I enjoyed as a kid:

  1. Eating
  2. Listening to music
  3. Making music
  4. Playing basketball & other sports, to a lesser degree
  5. Playing video games
  6. Going fishing
  7. Exploring the woods behind the house

I still engage in all these hobbies in some form as an adult except for fishing. Though I still eat fish, I no longer have the heart to fish for fun because something about harming another creature for my pleasure bothers me these days. I totally recognize that I'm being a hypocrite since I eat fish and that is one of many contradictions that exists in me. I am full of contradictions and I'm willing to bet that you are too, and I hope this week's newsletter has encouraged you to see that just because you have ideas and behaviors that contradict the "good" that you see in yourself, that doesn't make you a bad person. And that to live authentically in our truth as human beings is to accept & acknowledge that there is likely as much "bad" in us as there is "good".

P.S. I never intend for these newsletters to be this long. Each week I go into it with the intention to make them shorter and more digestible and each week I fail. I will figure it out eventually. Thank you for your patience.

With love,

Micheal Sinclair 💜